My first visit to the new Maison Symphonique began in awe of its spectacular architecture. This hall is so much better than Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, from its sightlines to its acoustics to its ambiance. Natural wood gives it a warmth compared to the sterility of the red plush seats of Pelletier, and the acoustics are far better. André Ménard preceded guitarist Harry Manx's concert with this caveat (and I'm paraphrasing and loosely translating from the French): "No one wants to watch the concert through your little screen, so photos and video are strictly, truly forbidden." Thank you - many of the concerts have been plagued by people so concerned with documenting the fact that they were there rather than enjoying the experience of being there.
Manx is a guitarist who specializes in a mixture of blues and Indian music. This is no slapdash fusion - his incorporation of the mohan veena and Hindustani filigree is the work of someone who has seriously studied these traditions, as much as he has the Delta slide masters of the blues. Joined by a multicultural band of Australian organist Clayton Doley, Indian vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia, and multi-instrumentalist Yeshe, Manx wove his way through a repertoire of originals and carefully selected covers. The blend of Yeshe's kamele ngoni (a stringed instrument based on a gourd, similar to a kora) and Manx's resonator guitars was impressive and novel, as was the pairing of mbira (thumb piano) with Hammond organ. My intention in going to this concert was to hear Ahluwalia, a stunning Indian classical vocalist with a very pure, stringlike tone. She often left the stage for the other three musicians to delve deeper into the blues tradition. As great as Ahluwalia is, I got the sense she felt very out of place. The band really took off on the ecstatic "Must Must," a Sufi mystic song that Ahluwalia has previously recorded. In meeting her on an equal playing field, the band truly soared. Doley was a complete revelation for me - now seemingly based in Ontario, he's a true colourist on the Hammond, kicking bass pedals and manipulating the drawbars and Leslie speaker speed like Billy Preston. His duo with Ahluwalia, supporting her with subtly sweeping synth pads, was another highlight for me. The crowd responded more to a Booker T and the MGs style blues, and Yeshe's version of Zachary Richard's "La Ballade de Jean Batailleur." Both Yeshe and Manx have gruff voices that, while they're not the most precise instruments, are full of character and grit. The only downfall of the show, to me, was that Manx insisted on triggering kick and snare samples with his feet, which led to a similar feel for every song throughout the concert. It was cool for the first tune and then it grew tired - with Yeshe playing congas, it became entirely unnecessary.
From there, it was a clinic in first-generation hard bop with pianist Cedar Walton and his trio. Kicking off the set with "Newest Blues," Walton wasted no time in getting into some high-quality swing with compatriots David Williams on bass and drummer Willie Jones III. Jones had an impeccable time feel on the ride. Williams glued the trio together with a woody tone for walking. He had a penchant for quoting tunes, be it "Blue Monk" and "St Thomas" in "Newest Blues" or Coltrane's "Resolution" in his feature (whose name escapes me now). The set alternated between concise, punchy arrangements of standards ("Young and Foolish," "My One and Only Love") and Walton originals. It was like a class from Art Blakey University: Walton's tunes had multiple sections with different time feels in the vein of the great Jazz Messenger composers. Jones navigated these time feels with ease and facility. What Walton lacked in precision, he had in ideas - it was such an edifying pleasure to hear that bluesy, tonal post-bebop improvising language from one of its masters. No one owns that medium-slow loping swing tempo of "Dear Ruth" quite like Walton. A true privilege to be in his company.
I had to leave early for a photo op with the Kalmunity Vibe Collective. Last night, the marquee of Metropolis read: SARAH MK; KALMUNITY; NOMADIC MASSIVE. It was "A Great Day in Montreal." The Kalmunity collective is responsible directly for six shows in this year's programming; factor in the extended family of Nomadic Massive and Wesli and the count grows to nine. Kalmunity is a true incubator of talent in this city, and to me it is what sets Montreal's creative culture apart from all other scenes. The ability to unite artists across disciplines and genres to create art improvised in the moment is an experience unlike any other I've found. That they've been doing it every Tuesday for 9 years (with maybe a month or two pause a couple of years ago when we had to change venues) is nothing short of astonishing.
While Kalmunity was paying tribute to the late hip-hop producer J Dilla at the Savoy, I ran over to get my dose of Afro-Caribbean vinyl with the Canicule Tropicale crew. DJs Kobal, Philippe Noël and Sugarface Nene dug deep in their crates for a joyful selection of cumbia, salsa, samba and Afrobeat while Gene "Starship" Pendon displayed his handiwork in live painting beside the decks.